From Innovation to
Research and Back Again
ASK DR. EVAL
Dr. Eval is part of ISTE’s
Research & Evaluation
provides needs assessment, grant development,
and program evaluation
services to school districts, universities, public
agencies, and private
(TREx) review site and
the Ask Dr. Eval column,
R&E helps ISTE members use research and
evaluation in their work.
The terms research-based and evidence-based
are code for ways to approach professionalism
and accountability. The underlying assumption
is that there is such a thing as “what works” and
that you can discover it with “gold standard,”
random, controlled trial research methods. Gary
Thomas and Richard Pring offer an extensive
review in their book, Evidence-Based Prac-
tice in Education (free online at http://tinyurl.
com/7nl73p6). In this book, Martyn Hammersley
says about the space between research and practice:
Research knowledge usually takes the form of
generalization…. Research usually cannot sup-
ply what ... evidence-based practice demands
of it—specific and highly reliable answers to
questions about what “works” and what does
not—and professional practice cannot for the
most part be governed by research findings—
because it necessarily relies on multiple values,
tacit judgment, local knowledge, and skills.
Everything can’t be research based. Even medical doctors, who created this model, make only
20% of their decisions based on research. In the
literature about “why what works won’t work,”
scholars point to decision making and learning theories informed by constructivism, which
suggest that teachers’ experience and judgment
must guide their practice.
The cumulative evidence that research produces gives us a starting place to make informed
decisions. For example, in the United States,
the new Common Core State Standards (www.
corestandards.org) refer to “scholarly research,
surveys on what skills are required of students entering college and workforce training programs,
assessment data identifying college- and career-ready performance, and comparisons to standards from high-performing states and nations.”
These broad generalizations set guidelines for
practice but do not mandate recipes for teachers.
Some research suggests that the most effective
modalities for teacher professional development
are action research and communities of practice.
Such “best practices” guidelines make knowledge about what worked available to inform
decision making. For example, a school district
might give teachers time and resources to innovate in their classrooms and collect evidence
about their work to share with other practitioners as well as researchers. Program evaluation
is research that tests local and situated evidence
of the consequences of policy and practice.
One critique is that teachers often don’t have an
environment conducive to creativity and innovation. But some funding streams help create these
opportunities. The National Science Foundation
supports projects with design and implementation
involving teachers in innovation and research, as
do corporate philanthropic projects, such as Microsoft’s Partners in Learning and HP’s Catalyst
So the question really is: What is the philosophy of the educational leadership in your district about the relationships between research,
practice, and innovation?